Once upon a time we thought we knew what a criminal looked like and what they did. It was someone, probably male, who broke into your home or car to take property. Or who mugged you. Or otherwise assaulted you.
We know from the latest crime survey, however, that we are, increasingly, far more likely to be mugged down a phone line or online than in some dark alley. Even as crime generally is receding as a threat to our wellbeing, the five million incidents of fraud in England and Wales last year, plus some 2.5 million cyber crime offences, such as computer hacking, show that crime is evolving with the world it feeds upon.
Yet we remain complacent. Being beaten up in the street is still a more potent fear than being fleeced by a phishing scam. This faulty perception, that what might be termed “traditional” violent crime is high and rising, is fostered by a media fixated on an old-fashioned agenda. What is more, this widespread misperception of risk means that people remain far too vulnerable to even the crudest attempts to steal from them.
Not only that, many of us seem not to even realise that these attempts are in fact crimes, and cyber crime and fraud has been hugely under-reported. Like rape and other sexual crimes, especially those associated with paedophilia, greater awareness has rightly resulted in greater reporting and in greater police attention.
That attention, however, is not matched by a corresponding increase in resources and ability. There is no doubt that hacking and financial fraud are complex crimes and are growing in their sophistication. Yet the police and the banks do not seem to have caught up with the scale and the techniques used by the fraudsters, despite their best efforts.
The Financial Conduct Authority, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Treasury and other authorities might also want to tighten up on a huge scandal now sweeping the nation about which nothing has been done; cold calling by self-styled “financial companies” offering “free pension surveys”. Few of these calls represent a genuine interest in the affairs of would-be pensioners. They are, of course, aimed at exploiting and perverting the new pensions freedoms for the purposes of personal financial gain.
Even if the cold callers and proprietors of these companies are not technically criminals, their activities are close to criminality, and, to the extent that they will destroy the lives of many vulnerable people close to, or already in, retirement, evil with it. Those grasping charities that pester people for money are not far behind. And yet the authorities seem unwilling to tackle these gateways to fraud because – well, because of what? It seems to be pure complacency.
In a few years’ time we will realise what is taking place now, and there will be the usual inquiries and promises to “learn lessons”, too late for many whose life savings have been stolen. Surely the leaders of the FCA and senior police officers sometimes get such unwelcome calls offering a free pensions “survey”? Do they imagine that everyone is as immune to fraud?
Substantial as the rising fraud crime wave has been, the current theft of pension pots will make it look trivial indeed.
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